By NOELLE NICOLLS
Tribune Features Editor
WHEN it comes to illegal immigration Branville McCartney, member of parliament for Bamboo Town, time and time again, proves himself to be a master at pandering, but last week he added a new issue to his chest, in a desperate attempt to galvanise some form of base for his fledgling political party, the Democratic National Alliance.
According to Mr McCartney, rape in marriage is "too hard to prove", so the state should not waste its time implementing laws to enfranchise women with authority over their own bodies. "I do not think (spousal rape) should be illegal. I maintain that," said Mr McCartney, DNA leader.
He said so last week, during a taping of the TV programme Citizen's Review, hosted by Erin Ferguson, while fielding questions about the amendment to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, proposed by the Free National Movement (FNM) in 2009.
Although Mr McCartney has since tried to back-track on his comments, because of his political miscalculation, sources who attended the event are saying, "not so fast Mr McCartney. You were clear and direct when you articulated your position."
The DNA's new official line is that if elected the choice will be put to the people. Mr McCartney should know by now that not all of us were born yesterday.
His personal views are no trivial matter, not just because he aspires to sit in the ultimate seat of political power, but also because this is a married man with two young daughters. What does it say about a change-agent candidate who cannot even be counted on to vote in the best interest of his own children.
I would love to hear him at bed time say, I love you honey, and just to show you how much, I am supporting a law that says, if your husband forces you to have sex against your will, too bad. It is your duty to please him at his leisure.
"When at the end of the day, you are sleeping in the same bed as your wife or spouse, you become one in that regard, and rape is very difficult to prove, especially as sexual intercourse is a part of marriage," said Mr McCartney.
These unfortunate positions ushered Mr McCartney into the spotlight last week not as the change-agent he would like us to see him, but as the anti-change agent, who seems satisfied with representing the dying bastions of patriarchal power. From a women's rights point of view that makes him public-enemy number one.
I am satisfied that on the issue of spousal rape, time will settle the score, but for now, Mr McCartney, the self anointed voice of anti-progress, will have to face the chorus of outrage from empowered Bahamian women many of whom have now added him to their blacklist.
Before he switched his mouth, I was ready to give Mr McCartney credit for one thing, laying his cards on the table. At the time, I thought it was more than I could say for the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), who have pretty much sidestepped the issue, hiding behind a calculated political strategy of silent deliberation or sitting on the fence.
To his credit, Alfred Sears, PLP member of parliament for Fort Charlotte, was one of the few vocal PLP supporters of the amendment. He is a survivor of child abuse. Fred Mitchell, member of parliament for Fox Hill also spoke publicly in support of the amendment.
The FNM, although it brought forward the amendment, eventually took their cards off the table, cowering to the misogynist crusade of religious fundamentalists and their bandwagonists.
Sadly, however, Mr McCartney has proved himself as spineless as the rest. And his reward, given that he is on the wrong side of progress for women, is egg in the face.
For Mr McCartney's sake, and the wider Bahamian public, I shall attempt to break down this spousal rape issue into basic common sense.
The Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act defines rape, in its basic form, as the act of any person not under 14 years of age having sexual intercourse with another person who is not his spouse without the consent of that other person.
Where the parties are under the age of 14, the law classifies the act as unlawful sexual intercourse. If both parties are married, the law writes it off as an unfortunate situation, suggesting that the act of rape does not occur because a man is simply exercising his conjugal right, and a woman her conjugal duty.
The Bahamas inherited the spousal rape exception clause directly from antiquated British Common Law. It is just one of several areas in law that discriminate against married Bahamian women, on the basis that men, once upon a time, saw women, including their wives, as only a step above chattel slaves.
It is natural that I, a young, black, woman - the antithesis to the old guard - would stand at odds with that way of thinking, but I dare say that as a society, the majority of us have collectively evolved past that way of thinking. Right?
So I ask the question: Why are we making enemies out of married women? Why is it so difficult for Bahamians to adopt the common sense principle that married women should have equal rights in law to unmarried women, and furthermore that all Bahamian men and women and their children should have equal rights?
Just like opponents of the spousal rape amendment, opponents of the citizenship amendment that would empower all Bahamian women equally with the right to confer citizenship to their children like to obfuscate the issue, using red herrings to overshadow the common sense reality.
Advocates of the spousal rape amendment are not trying to rob any group of their rights or empower women with rights not already afforded to any other group? Advocates are simply saying do not discriminate against married women. The argument stops there and so does the proposed amendment. What is so egregious about that?
What kind of institution is marriage to aspire to if Bahamian women are simply opening themselves up to egregious forms of discrimination, wilfully supported by pandering politicians.
The fact that a man and woman become one when they get married, or when they consummate their marriage, is metaphorical, even within the religious context, and even where it is understood that a metaphysical bond is formed.
For the sake of clarity I am going old-school, to the days of Debate Club: The online reference book, Dictionary.com defines metaphorical as "a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance."
Outside of speaking about the conception of a child, a husband and wife do not literally become one when they get married. It is a metaphor. The "oneness" principle is not even mandated by the marital contract, a legal contract which generally oversees the distribution of marital assets. A man and woman are entitled to joint or separate assets, and in no circumstance is one partner considered the asset of the other.
So despite Mr McCartney's bogus suggestion, or the popular Christian interpretation, a marriage should not rob a wife of her free will, her identity, legal or otherwise, or her body.
The so-called responsibility to engage in sexual intercourse within a marriage should therefore have no bearing on the individuality of either party and their right to express that individuality, even by saying no to sex.
I believe everyone should have the right to conceive of marriage as they wish, even those who believe sexual obligation is central to the principle of becoming one. But shouldn't all right thinking people, even Christians, agree that when this principle is extended to the point of sexual violence, rape, then the law should afford spouses protection and due process.
And on the matter of religious values, the record is public. The following churches supported, and presumably still support, the proposed amendment when it was tabled: The Anglican Diocese, the Catholic Archdiocese, the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
The Bahamas Christian Council, surprise, surprise, was the champion of the lone rangers. Even apparent moderates like the respected Dr Myles Munroe raised red herring questions like whether "the long arm of the government" should extend to the "marriage bed."
While advocates of the spousal rape amendment have no qualms with religious values, they are drawn into conflict with religious leaders who use their faith-based pulpit to spread misinformation, over-inflate unfounded concerns, spread alarm and mislead the public. To what end?
At the height of the public discourse, former Christian Council president Rev Patrick Paul said he was concerned about the law opening the door for evil, malignant, spiteful women, and whoremongers to "get back at someone, because of some unfortunate circumstance."
Let me get this straight: Rev Paul conceives of rape as an "unfortunate circumstance" and further believes the constituency of evil, malignant, spiteful women is so substantial that in his righteousness, he must protect the society against their whoremongering ways. If this were not astounding enough, there are Bahamian women who have no objection with this self portrayal. Are we asleep or what?
Bottom line, the last time I checked, for all that we have learned about marriage from the good book, neither God the Father, the Son nor the Holy Spirit, condones a man raping his wife. Show me the justification, and I will eat a healthy serving of humble pie.
Bahamians should be very concerned, because many of these religious figures masquerading out there as leaders have very little knowledge of basic, yet fundamental facts of life, particularly when it comes to women's issues.
Pastor Cedric Moss, for example, of the Kingdom Life Church, said the following, shortly after the amendment was first tabled in 2009: "Any forced sexual acts on wives by husbands in non-estranged marriages should be punishable as some other crime, perhaps indecent assault, and not treated as if it were rape by a stranger."
Someone forgot to tell Pastor Moss that the perception that strangers are by and large responsible for rape is a false perception. Most rapes worldwide are committed by people known to the victims. Therefore, acquaintance rapes, although universally difficult to prove, account for the large majority of rapes.
Some countries in the world recognising that rape laws, with their false underlying assumptions, are insufficient to address this reality, have advanced their legislation to specifically address the challenges of acquaintance rape, thereby providing greater protection for their citizens.
Pastor Moss was also pushing the idea that inside a marriage there is a "contract that implies open-ended sexual consent." Say what? Show me the contract so I know where not to sign.
The spousal rape amendment is not setting any new religious precedents, and it is not establishing a new definition of what a marriage is or is not.
The proposed amendment simply seeks to equalize how the definition of rape is applied, acknowledging that where married women suffer this most brutal form of sexual assault, the law should afford them due process.
I have faith that common decency and common sense will prevail in the end, and that on this issue, one day, there will be a government that does the right thing.
In the meantime, will women of the Bahamas, and decent, right-thinking men, for God's sake, please stand up and let their voices be heard.
We should be so solidly galvanised around this issue that green, red or yellow, no government should have a choice but to support this issues.
See the Women's Section in the Tribune newspaper tomorrow for full coverage of the controversial spousal rape issue. Read more from the Women's Editor, in her weekly column The Watchwoman, every Tuesday in the Women's Section.